Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: This was the year we ate approximately one pound of butter each!

Yes, Thanksgiving weekend at my house saw four people consume eight and half sticks of butter. I am not sure that is actually a pound each, but it is still disgusting.

I blame the sweet potatoes! And the homemade cinnamon rolls! And the apple dumplings! And the mashed potatoes! And the pumpkin pie and broccoli and rice and stuffing and snap peas with caramelized pecans...

It's fine, though, because my mom and I went to Jazzercise Thanksgiving morning so we surely burned off at least 1/8 of the calories we consumed.


Basically we all spent the entire weekend eating, punctuated by shopping trips and sewing projects. Oh--and one viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was, in a word, fantastic.

But now Thanksgiving is over. Which means it is time for the festivities of the winter holidays--cocktail parties, Christmas movies, caroling, shopping, gift-wrapping, whatever makes your lights twinkle.

In my world it is also the time for final papers and end the of the semester grading.

Oh--and that little detail I almost forgot--FINISHING and handing in my dissertation. It's enough to make my stomach churn and my face feel hot just thinking about it.

I have three weeks. Three weeks to revise and fine tune and double check citations and make sure I footnoted all the right people. Three weeks before it is OUT of my hands.

And then I throw up and die.

Part of me is really scared that I will chicken out and decide to keep working on it over the holidays. I don't WANT to, but I could easily give myself an extra month to keep obsessing over it. I am determined to do all I can to avoid this scenario, however.

So in the next three weeks I will be commenting on 14 drafts, grading 14 exams, grading 14 final papers, and revising roughly 200 pages of my own writing.

Lest you think this sounds like I will have no fun at all this holiday season, please keep in mind that I will also be attending four holiday parties, two dissertation defense parties, one play, one movie, one college basketball game, and one children's Christmas program at David's elementary school (shoot my eyes out) (I mean: It's so cute! Love it!).

Totally d0-able. Right?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I am a rock. I am an island.

I am not Simon nor Garfunkel, but I am without internet at mi casa!

Our land line is out, and our DSL with it.

Our provider promises it should be up and running by... Monday.

Perhaps these people don't realize that when I work from home, the internets is my only connection to the outside world! Without it, I go crazy...

I also take naps. Accidentally, for thirty minutes today. I was trying to read about the history of science fiction and suddenly I was awake! And thirty minutes of my day were missing! It was like a moment out of science fiction. Only without shiny gadgets and a unitard.

* * *

As far as The Status of Things (read: my dissertation), dare I say that Things are going well?

I am afraid to say that, for fear of jinxing myself or inviting myself to be the butt of some horrific cosmic joke, but...

* My sanity seems to be intact. (I am not ripping out my hair and eating it. Anymore.)
* My chapters seem to be written. (I am still revising, but mostly cosmetically.)
* People on my dissertation committee seem to be using the words "clear" and "well written" when talking to me about a chapter. A chapter that I wrote. (I know, it's mind-boggling. That is why I blink and stare at them blankly before I remember to smile and nod.)
* It seems that I might actually be close to finishing.

What I'm saying here is that I need to write 5 or 6 pages and call it a coda or an afterword or some other elitist name for a conclusion.

And then.

It. Is. Written.

Now there I've gone and jinxed myself.

* * *

New Moon!

After much deliberation via Facebook, four of my girlfriends and I bought our tickets in advance for a showing on Saturday night. We plan to arrive at the theatre en masse and giggling like junior high girls. After the showing, we will retire to a posh cocktail lounge where we will engage in a scholarly discussion of the film, as would reflect our intellectual pursuits. In other words, we're going to grab a beer and argue over whether vampires or werewolves are hotter with their shirts off.

* * *

What follow are two fictional scenes. Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.

* * *

Scene: A college classroom, class has been dismissed. Instructor erases dry-erase board and students gather their books and exit. A female student rushes to the front of the room, seems rather frantic, somewhat crazy.

Student: (loudly) I need to talk to you about my assignment!

Instructor: (in a friendly, patient tone that does not belie the irritation she actually feels) OK.

Student: I guess I will wait until more people leave. I had some personal issues this weekend.

Instructor: (less friendly) Um, OK.

All students exit but Student #1 and a slouchy male student.

Student #2: (shuffles to front of room)

Instructor: Do you have a question for me too?

Student #2: Uh, I forgot my assignment.

Instructor: OK. Bring it Monday.

Student #2 shuffles out of room.

Student #1: (seems bewildered) Oh, well, I wanted to talk to you about the same thing, but I guess you don't need to hear my excuse?

Instructor: No. (with relief) No. I do not. I am actually not at all interested in your excuse. Just bring the assignment on Monday.

* * *

Scene: College classroom. Overachieving, grade-grubbing students are in their desks. We enter this scene mid-way through conversation in which students who got a poor grade on previous assignment are pretending to have been confused about the parameters and expectations of the assignment--which were clearly spelled out in class.

Student #1: (whiny and petulant) But I don't understand... what do you want on this assignment?

Instructor: (slightly exasperated) Look, this assignment is not about what I want. This has nothing to do with what I want. If you were writing what I want to be reading, you would all be handing in celebrity gossip magazines and I would be reading US Weekly.

Pause. Silence.

Instructor: (cheerfully) Now let's talk about what skills this assignment requires you to demonstrate.

* * *

I love to teach. But I really love when the semester is over, too. This one is so close I can taste it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Tale of One Dissertation Chapter

The morning started out like any other Thursday. I ate breakfast, worked out, walked the dog. On our walk I noticed that the recycle bins were in front of other people's houses. I made a mental note double check and see if David had put ours outside. And of course I promptly forgot about it.

Got home around 11 and showered and flitted away the rest of the morning grading/e-mailing/etc. Finally I ate lunch and decided it was (at last) time to start on the revisions of this last chapter based on the comments I'd gotten from my advisor. Went to pull out the copy with her comments on it.

Couldn't find it.

It is Nowhere to be found. Distinctly remember having it in a specific pile on my desk. 45 pages, double spaced, blue-ink commentary in the margins. No sign of it. All other items are in pile. Chapter is gone. Not in my bag. Not in the living room. Not underneath laptop. Not sitting on printer ready to be reused by printing on the other side. Not in any one of various folders I frantically rifled through looking for it. This probably took about five or ten minutes but it felt like YEARS.

I suddenly couldn't remember if I have really seen it since I got back from my conference. Could I have lost it before the conference? I know I didn't take it with me. WHERE could it BEEEEE?

(At this point my face is hot and my hands are cold and I feel like I could barf or cry except that would be too distracting and I HAVE to find this chapter.)

The dogs start barking their crazy heads off because the recycling truck is outside, which reminds me that we never DID put out the recycle bins and so far this day is adding up to a total FAIL.

In desperation, I dig through the recycle paper bin next to my desk. And there at the bottom, under the newspaper and catalogs and advertisments and the paper shreds my cousin Angie used to cushion the pumpkin butter she mailed to me... THERE is my dissertation chapter with my advisor's blue inked scribbles on it.

It must have slid off my desk and into the bin at some point when I was scrambling to revise my conference paper or hurrying to tidy up my desk before leaving for the weekend. And by all rights, it should have already been picked up and on its way to become gray notebook paper or 7th Generation paper towels.

IF David had remembered to put out the recycle bin this morning... IF I had remembered when I got home from walking the dog to put out the recycle bin...

Call it what you will--good luck, predestination, providence, our forgetful morning was obviously meant to be.

Yesterday, my chapter revision was handed in. I anticipate one more serious revision before this thing is officially completed!

Friday, November 13, 2009


Reader interest in naming the cat pretty much matches my current interest in the damn thing.

Haven't seen it since before we went to San Francisco but the food still disappears.

(And here we all say a little prayer that I am still actually feeding the cat and not that enormous possum that lives somewhere in the neighborhood.)

Anyway, survey will be up for a few days, so please feel free to vote in the right column there.

In spite of kitty's vexing lack of gratitude and/or affection, I am also considering getting a small dog house that I could put outside to provide shelter for kitty in the winter. Cat people--would an outdoor (stray) cat use such a thing? I just don't know where he will sleep when it snows...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deer Meat

When I was little, the holiday season did not start with Thanksgiving or Halloween. The holidays began when Deer Season shifted from bow to firearms.

How festive and peace-on-earthish of us, right?

Deer season meant aunts and uncles and cousins driving in for the weekend and everybody getting together for dinner at Aunt Tammi's house. It really was the beginning of the holidays--a chill in the air, a warm and brightly lit house at the end of a long gravel road, the scent of chili simmering on the stove, men's muddy boots standing up by the front door, Carhart coveralls smelling faintly wet and woodsmoky, the low baritones of men comparing hunting stories, punctuated by little kids laughing and women talking in the kitchen. There is still a particular kind of minty chewing tobacco that makes me think of deer season and being a little kid whenever I smell it.

I think it is important to note that I've been an animal lover my entire life. I've never had interest in hunting. I've been a vegetarian for the last seven years. And yet I still think of deer season with a kind of warm nostalgia.

My mom kept a journal when I was a little girl and in it she recorded an incident when I was about three years old and I saw a deer that my dad had shot. It was lying in the back of his truck. I understood that it was dead but I kept asking why its eyes were open.

And then told my mom that when I got to heaven, I was going to lie down beside that deer.

Which must have been a kind of creepy thing for a little kid to say and suggests that from the very start I had some serious misgivings about this killing animals thing.

My sympathy for deer (perpetuated, no doubt, by Bambi) only increased as I got older. By the time I was nine or ten, I began to vocally protest hunting season. By which I mean I tried to convince my dad it was cruel to shoot deer. He explained to me that the population needed to be controlled or they would overrun the woods and starve or get hit by cars on the highway. I was only somewhat mollified by this explanation.

I still hated the idea of deer being shot but more troubling for me honestly was the thought of a general state of anxiety in which I imagined the poor deer must live for the entire extent of the season.

Perhaps I gave deer too much credit for their cognitive abilities?

In spite of my misgivings about shooting furry animals, it was hard not to enjoy the side effects of the season. After all, it was like a cultural ritual in our small town and the excitement was sort of contagious. I admired my aunt who hunted with the guys for ignoring the traditional gender roles even though I personally had no desire to get up that early in the morning only to sit outside in the cold without being able to talk (let alone actually having to shoot a deer). Kids would come to school with their carhart coveralls still on, the top half unzipped and hanging down so they were just wearing the pants and a flannel shirt as evidence they had been up at the crack of dawn deer hunting before school.

Deer season didn't just mean grabbing a gun and hitting the woods, it meant families getting together, a certain sense of cameraderie in the hunting section of Wal-Mart (yes, some Wal-Marts have a hunting section), men growing beards and wearing camouflage, people stocking up on groceries to feed extended family, good-natured boasting about the first deer of the season or the biggest deer in the group. The season seemed to be full of family and food and a general sense of goodwill--no wonder it felt like Christmastime.

Deer season doesn't really make a blip on my radar where I live now. And I have been surprised to find that I kind of miss it.

I don't like violence and I don't like cruelty to animals. But I'm no longer sure that deer season is those things.

Now that I've learned more than I really wanted to know about factory farms and chicken factories, I have more of an appreciation for hunting wild game. I suppose it is something of a skill and while human beings clearly have the advantage, I would wager that the deer who are hunted this year have lived a happier existence than most of the turkeys that will be consumed this Thanksgiving.

Personally, I still don't particularly want to eat deer meat, but I'm glad that the hunters I know eat venison steak and use ground venison in spaghetti and make summer sausage and jerky out of deer. I see it as a responsible use of resources. Take your share and leave some for others. All things considered, I think it is a relatively humane way to feed a family.

I still don't want to see dead deer hanging in trees. (Especially within the city limits--shouldn't there be some kind of ordinance about that?) But in a world where we lived so far removed from nature, I'm glad that my family is part of a tradition that respects the meat on the table and that we've all seen the animal that used to be. We recognize that food that doesn't just come pre-packaged and de-boned at the grocery store.

So you definitely won't see me wearing camouflage and carrying a gun out to the woods, but as far as I'm concerned, the holiday season has commenced.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Along with a nice chunk of change.

But it was worth it. See?

Yes, San Francisco lived up to the hype. That city is amazing! I had to be a Responsible and Professional Adult and actually attend my conference, but even so we managed to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as humanly possible for two people in one big city over two and a half days.

Thursday night began with our (on-time) arrival. David's aunt Lana lives in Sacramento so she and her two kiddos drove over to see us. They actually swung by the airport and picked us up which was an excellent surprise!

Our hotel was the Parc 55 which I chose for two reasons: (1) it was recommended by my conference and so gave us a special discount and (2) of the hotels recommended by the conference, it was the closest to a metro station.

What I didn't know was that it is located near Union Square and therefore is within walking distance of every major retailer known to man.

From our hotel window, I could see Barney's, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy's, and Neiman Marcus. Not to mention all the smaller stores-- a 3-story Forever 21, a massive Old Navy, a 3-story H&M, DSW, BCBG, FCUK, you list a few initials, that store was there. It was very exciting.

Look, Mom! It's the biggest Macy's I've ever SEEN!

But to be perfectly honest, there wasn't that much time for shopping. Our first night we had dinner at Puccini's--a little Italian place just on the corner across from our hotel. The kids (5-year-old Kailer and one-and-a-half year old Taylyn) were quite well behaved. Of course there was a small hiccup in the evening when Kailer announced he was going to barf (this was before dinner had arrived). Lana frantically jumped up and dragged him to the bathroom. They returned several minutes later, with Kailer cheerfully announcing that actually he just had to burp. In the meantime, Taylyn had a bit of a meltdown. Something about her mom and brother abandoning her in an Italian restaurant with two people who are essentially strangers seemed to set her off. David and I avoided eye contact with other diners by staring into the bottoms of our wine glasses and gulping quickly while Taylyn screamed in her high chair.

So, no problems that a bottle of wine and some veggie lasagna couldn't solve.

Friday morning I was up and off to the conference and David went to check out the baseball stadium. He walked around the stadium while I sat in on a panel about nineteenth-century literature and religion and another panel on nineteenth century literature and crime.

Picture of gianormous baseball glove deemed more interesting than picture of a literature conference.

At lunchtime, I cut out of the conference and met up with David and Lana and the kids at Pier 39. It was a rainy, foggy day which somehow felt much more tolerable in San Francisco. I guess it just seemed appropriate. It was the perfect weather for some clam chowder in a sourdough breadbowl. After lunch, Lana took the kids back to the hotel for a nap and David and I caught the boat to Alcatraz for our tour.

The tour was very interesting (we did the audio guide bit) and we got to wander the island and the prison, which was as bleak and depressing as you might expect. Some of the cells were furnished and even decorated with water color paintings and books that the inmates had. The cells were astonishingly small and of course there was no privacy at all ever which just freaks me out. We learned all about the escape attempts.

Let me out! Or I will sharpen a spoon and dig my way out through the grate in the wall.

I thought it was interesting that the prison tour is pretty insistent about claiming that the three escapees who were never found must have drowned and therefore there has never been a successful escape from Alcatraz. I recently heard a thing on NPR about it that said they are still not officially presumed dead and there is an officer whose job it is to continue to follow up on leads about these guys. If they lived, they likely headed to South America (they had been studying Spanish while in Alcatraz). I'm totally spending my next lazy Sunday afternoon watching one of those escape-from-Alcatraz movies that they always rerun on TNT.

Unfortunately, I think I must have gotten kind of seasick on the boat ride. I felt pretty queasy as we wandered around the island but I just kept chewing gum and I didn't barf (Kailer and I were 0 for 2!). On the ride back to the pier, we stood outside on the deck of the boat and I think that helped. Wind and fresh air and a great view of the island and the city, even through the fog.

Can you tell I kind of want to puke? Also, that's Alcatraz Island to the left.

Once we got back to the pier, we walked back down to Fisherman's Wharf to catch a cable car back to the hotel (Parc 55 is just one block from the Powell Street cable car stop). We popped in and out of the little tourist shops and David bought some Ghirardelli chocolates. We happened upon all the docks where the seals hang out and stood and watched them for a while. There were so many! They are cute. Like puppies without feet.

Then it was time for the cable car! We squeezed on, standing on the running board and holding on to the side. I still can't believe it's legal for people to ride that way. We were so close to the other cars on the road and the hills were so steep. I loved it. I guess it's a pretty cheesy tourist thing to do but definitely worth it, if only for the views of the city.

It really looked just the way I imagined it would.

Lana's husband surprised everybody by driving in for dinner that night so we got back to the hotel and changed and then headed to an Asian fushion restaurant that Lana had found in one of our guidebooks--a "hidden gem" of San Francisco. It was certainly hiddden--down a back alley with a quiet little door (guarded by a doorman) that simply led to an elevator. Upstairs was a lovely upscale restaurant with wicker furniture and palm-frond ceiling fans.

My seasickness was still bothering me so while everyone else ordered wine or mixed drinks, I had a ginger ale. And while everyone else ordered fancy dishes of steak or seafood, I had brown rice. I managed to have one veggie spring roll as well. It was sad to see all the delicious food and not want to eat it.

We were still operating on Missouri time so we were ready for bed pretty much right after dinner. We walked back to the hotel and window-shopped on the way. Taylyn entertained us by finding a street sign pole, wrapping her arms and legs around it, and sliding down to sit on her bottom. She was so funny and evidently was having a great time. We made a few inappropriate jokes about her pole dancing and then continued back the hotel where the guys went down to the restaurant for a beer and the kids and the girl with the stomachache crashed for the night.

No sleep before a tickle war!

The next morning was my conference presentation! I was up early and once I'd gotten ready I decided to head over to the university with plenty of time to spare. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day so I sat outside and read over my paper until it was time for my panel to begin.

I was second of four presenters. Each of us read a 15-minute paper and there was a general question and answer time at the end. I was the only graduate student on my panel, the rest were all professors which I found slightly intimidating. But everyone was so extremely friendly and encouraging. My paper got the most questions and comments at the end and I felt like I knew how to answer all of them or they were comments that I had already considered in my larger project. So it was really a pleasant experience. I might even call it fun!

I walked over to the luncheon with a very nice woman who teaches at Harvard and we sat with some other people who had sat in on my panel--some graduate students from Berkeley and Stanford and Santa Barbara. We commiserated about the job market and people said more nice things about my panel and my essay. The veggie entree was enchiladas which made me really happy. And then we listened to an interesting talk about alternate-history novels (like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which I recently read just for fun and found completely fascinating).

After lunch I seriously considered heading back for a panel on women and work in the nineteenth century (the governess!) but I had too much sight-seeing left to do!

Lana and Barry and the kids had headed back to Sacramento so David and I were on our own for the afternoon. I met him back at the hotel where he had planned out our route to the Golden Gate Bridge via the metro bus system. I was a little bit nervous but he had figured everything perfectly! We made it to the bridge where I hummed the theme song to Full House and we admired the view and marveled at our good fortune to be there on such a beautiful day.

Special thanks to the international tourist who took our photo. I asked him because he had a huge and expensive looking camera so I figured he knew what he was doing. Digital cameras: the new international language.

From there it was a bus ride back into the city. I decided I wanted to walk down Lombard street, so we hopped off at a bus stop just two blocks from the top of the world's crookedest street.

Those would be two blocks at an approximately 80 degree angle. And we had to go UP before we could walk DOWN.

Our legs were jello by the end of it and there was only one cure: Irish coffee at Buena Vista (special thanks to Aunt Peggy for the suggestion).

After our coffee we wandered back through the wharf and got dinner from one of the take-away places outside. I had fish & chips (with garlic fries for chips) and David (who had fish & chips for lunch) ordered crab and shrimp AND a side of calamari.

David with his cup o' crab and shrimp. Waiting on the calamari.

We sat on some nearby benches overlooking the water but then I saw two huge rats and nearly had a freak out spaz attack. I managed not to scream but I totally bolted. David came jogging after me as I ran away clutching my coke and fish & chips and we ended up standing and eating in a well-lit area that proved to be rat-free.

(That night I had a nightmare about rats which surprised me because my dreams are not usually that predictable. I woke up in the middle of the night shouting "I don't like it!" so loudly that I woke David up too.)

After dinner we wandered back through Fisherman's Wharf, watched some of the street entertainers and artists, went in some of the shops, and then decided to catch the cable car and head back to the hotel for a drink before calling it a night.

Did I mention I loved the cable car rides?

Breakfast our last morning was at Lefty O'Doul's -- he was a baseball player with the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio so the place was full of baseball photos. I had an Irish coffee with breakfast. It was the last day of vacation!

Sunday brought us uneventful flights and the irritating realization that it was much easier to make the transition over to west-coast time zones than it is to make the switch back... I think I'm still recovering!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Narrow Escape

In all the excitement of adopting an unfriendly and ungrateful cat, I almost forgot to mention that David and I were terrorized by the Jason of Friday the 13th on Halloween night.

I am terrified. Actually, I was sort of freaked out by the flaming hand being over my hair.

Our neighbors celebrate Halloween with a fire pit in the front yard and hot food inside and Halloween candy outside. And also by dressing up like the bad guy in a horror movie and jumping out at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters and neighbors who happened to be walking their dogs or just walking to their cars. He definitely startled a few people although most of the kids were too cool to be scared.

David gets cozy with Jason. Until the chainsaw comes out.

In fact, it seemed that jumping out of the bushes was mainly for our entertainment, but we did find it highly entertaining. David and I didn't stick around all night as we had a Frito Pie plus Buffy the Vampire Slayer Halloween viewing party to attend as well. It was delicious and delightful. It was not a dress-up party so we were costume-free this year. (David was relieved, I was disappointed, although at least this way I couldn't procrastinate work by making a Halloween costume.)

So our Halloween was comprised of a fire pit, some brewskis, a crazy dude in a Jason mask, some vampire viewing, frito pie, mulled wine, popcorn, and candy. Hope your Halloween had at least a few of those delightful ingredients.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The thing about cats...

is that they are not particularly grateful.

Yesterday afternoon I was outside trying to coax kitty to come over and let me pet him (I have decided Kitty is a boy but that's mostly because I want it to be a boy because I don't want to deal with kittens), but to no avail. A neighbor passed by walking her two dogs and asked me if the cat belonged to Don and Bill's house. I explained the situation with the renter leaving and the cat being left to fend for itself and said that I was going to get some cat food tomorrow and start feeding it.

Poor pitiful kitty. Who knew you would be such an ingrate?

Dog-walking Neighbor told me that she had put food out for this cat before because it roamed the neighborhood and would try to kill the birds that came to eat the seed she puts out on her front lawn (Note to Dog-Walking Neighbor: There is a reason your car is covered with bird shit. It's because you ask for it.). She said she might have some cat food left and I told her that if she did, she could go ahead and put it out for this kitty because I didn't think it had eaten for a few days.

She ended up walking the cat food back up to my house with her dogs (Cooper was most decidedly not a gracious host to them--embarrassing!) and so kitty got a meal yesterday. I stayed back while he ate and then tried to get closer but he just walked away without so much as a backward glance. Yeah, Kitty. Because the world owes you this food.

So today I came home from Target* with a bag of Friskees and went outside to feed kitty. He came running right away when I called him and hopped up on the landscaping bricks. I reached out and touched his head but then he jumped back and hissed at me. He continued moving forward to be close to the food bowl, but hissed at me again. You might try being a little bit grateful, you starving little wench.

So I guess this process of winning over the cat is going to take a while...

Contentedly nappy after dinner of Friskess.

Still, it's not like I don't have good practice at parenting pets who are slightly psycho and sometimes hateful to me. I mean, it is sort of like Kitty already fits right in with the family. So I have decided to have a naming contest.

Submit your suggestion for a name for the Kitty in the comments. I'll select my favorites and then open it up to a vote. Extra points for obscure and pretentious literary references or baseball-related names. Gender-neutral names will also be given higher priority but I think we'll operate on the assumption he's a boy.

Target has started a new policy! (At least this was the first time I was made aware of it.) They take 5 cents off your total for every reusable bag you bring from home. They aren't charging people who still take plastic bags (although that policy would get my vote) but they are at least rewarding people who bring their own bags! Another reason to buy more than I intend to at Target.